The Road Less Traveled

January 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

After getting ourselves off trail, rather than tracking back two miles we forged our way through some tall, thick brush, trying not to think about the park ranger's warnings of poisonous snakes.

The hotel hadn’t had a single visitor in two weeks, and almost all the entries in its guest check-in book were of local Argentines.  The last non-Argentine was from six months ago, and the last American… well there had never been any Americans before us, at least not in the three years worth of records in the registration book.

This was Puelches, Argentina. We often like to travel off the beaten track, but Puelches takes it to a whole new level. Puelches is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere with two restaurants, two small hotels, and a gas station. Most of its buildings are located alongside the highway for easy access from passing vehicles. As far as we can tell, it exists solely as a stopover for people making the long journey through the middle of Argentina.

Essentially we were spending the night at a trucker stop.

Puelches isn't just in the middle of nowhere -- it's in the exact geographic center of Argentina

So how did we end up here? Well, it wasn’t exactly recommended by anyone. In fact everyone including the guidebooks recommended NOT to come here. Puelches is located in a region called La Pampa, and everyone gave us the same answer when we said we were considering traveling there: “There is NOTHING in La Pampa!”

We took that response as a challenge. Surely there must be some interesting small towns to see, perhaps some wildlife, and local people untainted by tourists. After some research we learned of a national park called Lihué Calel. That would be our destination. The problem was that the park is inaccessible without a car. Someone told us that if we got to the nearest town – Puelches – then we could find someone to drive us to the park. Done.

We took an overnight bus and arrived at the Puelches gas station (they don’t have a bus stop) at 7am. We walked a few buildings down to the hotel, with a sign on the door saying “If you want to stay here, ask at the restaurant across the highway.” After settling into our room we set out to find a ride to the national park. Apparently the only person who drives visitors to the park is the unnamed “man with the brown car”, and the only way to find him is to “see him around town.” A few hours later there was still no sign of the brown car man and we were wondering whether we’d be spending the day stuck doing nothing. Fortunately the gas station attendant had the man’s phone number and shortly thereafter we found ourselves in a small brown car speeding to the national park!

I’m fairly confident Kasey and I were the only two visitors to Parque Nacional Lihué Calel that day. We spent a few hours walking the trails (and venturing off trail), saw one snake and one guanaco (llama/antelope creature), examined the faded two-thousand-year-old rock paintings, and then left. All in all, a fairly uneventful visit, and a bit of a letdown. On the bright side, during our ride back to town the brown car man’s girlfriend told us she felt proud to have foreigners visiting her city. The good feeling didn’t last long as by the next morning we were gone.

For future travelers deciding whether to be adventurous and travel through La Pampa region, I’d suggest to not get your hopes up.  Puelches will be forever ingrained in our memories, though definitely not for its excitement or charm. For us, this detour serves as a reminder that when you’re on the road for one year, not every experience can be as thrilling as seeing Iguazu Falls, climbing Volcano Villarrica, or participating in Superclasico.

See the rest of the pictures from the middle of nowhere, aka Puelches, Argentina, here.

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